Disability Rights and Freedoms

Tom Harkin’s late brother, Frank, lost his hearing at a very young age, so he knows firsthand the challenges facing Americans with disabilities. Harkin is a longstanding champion of persons with disabilities and a national leader on disability policy.

Working with Senator Bob Dole and others, Tom Harkin authored the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation that protects the civil rights of more than 54 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities. The day the bill was signed into law was one of the proudest moments of Tom Harkin’s life. The principles of the ADA -including equality of opportunity and independence – provide the foundation for all of his work on disability policy.

In addition to the ADA, Tom Harkin has authored other laws to increase the independence of Americans with disabilities. He wrote the legislation that requires all television sets to have closed captioning. He authored the law creating the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders. He helped write legislation reforming education for children with disabilities, with a special emphasis on early intervention. Tom Harkin also has championed efforts to improve mental health services and insurance coverage. And with Senator Gordon Smith he authored the Money Follows the Person Act, a federal demonstration program which gives states additional resources to provide home and community-based services to individuals choosing to leave a nursing home or institution.

Tom Harkin continues to pursue an aggressive disability policy agenda. He is working with Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and others on the Community Choice Act. This bill would give individuals who are eligible for nursing home services or other institutional care equal access to community-based services and supports, so that they can continue to live in their homes. He is working with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to win final passage of their bipartisan plan to meet the federal government’s commitment to fund special education costs. He has introduced legislation to promote the health and wellness of individuals with disabilities, by ensuring the health care providers use accessible medical equipment and by training medical and dental students to more effectively provide care to people with a variety of disabilities. And in addition to these efforts at home, Tom is working to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in foreign policy and programs, such as taking accessibility into account in foreign aid construction projects.